If USC’s NCAA athletic teams are supposed to represent our university, then students should be able to watch the team's games without jumping though hoops.
Especially with COVID-19 limiting stadium capacities this year, easy and free online viewing is a must.
Take this year’s baseball team, for example. It's currently 11-3 and is one of the top teams in the country — hopes are high for a very successful season. Its back-to-back walk-off wins against Clemson were one of the most exciting Gamecocks sports moments of this school year so far.
But unless your cable package includes an obscure sports channel, you didn’t have the chance to see it.
USC’s baseball games this season are mostly broadcasted on SEC Network+, which is more inaccessible than the relatively common SEC Network. It sounds like a streaming service, but it’s only available to subscribers of certain cable packages.
A lot of college students don’t have cable, and if they do then it’s often provided for them in a dorm or apartment complex. This means they can’t control which channels are available. For example, the current residence hall cable at USC does not include SEC Network+ and is going to be discontinued next fall anyway.
This inaccessibility means that students are often unable to watch their own school’s teams play.
One option may be for USC to host a livestream on its athletics website — even a bare-bones stream would be better than nothing. While this idea would likely run into problems with the SEC’s broadcast deals, a compromise where only students can access the free streams might smooth things over with the networks. It’s not like college students are a big cable TV customer base in the first place.
This problem isn’t just an annoyance for college students: it shows how some college sports are becoming more and more removed from its schools’ communities.
Instead of putting students and fans first, university administrations are clearly more concerned about signing massive conference TV broadcasting deals. After all, a free livestream for students wouldn’t make anyone any money.
The fact that making money seems to be a priority for athletic departments is a huge problem for college sports. The main reason for the popularity of college sports is because of its link to larger communities, such as its university or city.
The student body is the most obvious of these communities, as the athletes themselves are students. If college sports are becoming inaccessible to the people who attend the schools themselves, it can only get worse for other parts of fan bases.
A similar problem exists in professional baseball. The MLB’s blackout policy means that you can’t stream your hometown team’s games – games are only available on cable. This policy exists to placate the cable networks, but it has lead to the league losing fans.
If college athletic departments continue to make decisions based on maximizing revenue instead of prioritizing athletes and fans, the excitement and popularity around their teams will suffer.